While the NASCAR Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway this weekend, it’s hard not to look ahead to what’s next.
The regular season ends on the oval at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 28. Unless Ross Chastain pulls off an upset Sunday, it’ll be his last chance to make the playoffs with a win. At 176 points behind the cut line, only a victory will work for him.
If it comes to that, Chastain will have to run a fine line between going all out to save his season and keeping himself from doing something he’ll regret later.
“I don’t want to cause a big wreck,” he said Thursday in a media teleconference. “I’ve done that.”
In last August’s Xfinity Series race at Daytona, Chastain was driving for Kaulig Racing. He tried to take the lead with an inside pass of teammate A.J. Allmendinger on the final lap. Instead, Chastain made contact with Allmendinger and both went into the Turn 3 wall.
The third Kaulig driver, Justin Haley, slipped past the crash and went on to win.
“I still hate that I made that move on the last lap and I just could have done so much better there and just been a better person about it,” Chastain recalled. “And I wasn’t. And I didn’t do that. So yeah, I learned from that, I think.”
The next time he visited the Daytona oval, he was the new driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Cup car. In the season-opening Daytona 500, he finished seventh despite slamming the wall in the last-lap crash that gave the win to Michael McDowell.
Before all hell broke loose, many of the sport’s top superspeedway drivers – Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin among them – were ahead of Chastain in the lead pack.
And Chastain has noticed that on superspeedways, it’s usually those same drivers who are up front for those final restarts.
Is it luck? Chastain used to think so. He’s not so sure anymore.
“They put themselves in the best position and the right position to be up there,” he said. “If it is luck, they make their own luck. And they make the luck, so they can be up there at the end.”
Chastain hopes to be part of that group eventually. But first thing’s first, and that’s Michigan’s wide, 2-mile oval this weekend.
The track will be treated with resin instead of PJ1 entering this weekend’s races. When resin was last used on the concrete at Nashville Superspeedway in June, it was met with positive feedback from competitors. Chastain earned his career-best Cup finish of second at Nashville behind winner Kyle Larson.
As far as racing with resin on asphalt, Chastain said he’s never done it before. With that, he’s adopted a “figure it out” attitude.
“We’ll just go up there and kind of poke at it and feel it, whatever we have to in dirty air, and if it’s got grip, you’ll see a lot of us up there,” Chastain said. “If it doesn’t have grip, you’ll see us all below it. We’ll only take what we can take out of it.
“… They want the best race. They want to give us options. And I think we’ve got a shot. I don’t think the rain up there this week is helping their track prep stuff, but they’re going to do what they can. They don’t want to make it too slick or too gripped-up. They’re just trying to find a happy medium. And if they get it in the box where we can race in it, then we’ll have a lot more options for racing.”